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3 December 2020, Gateway House

India & Canada: Partners in digital economy

In preparing India for its G20 Presidency, domestic standards must be strengthened to reflect globally. The chaotic nature of the Global Digital Infrastructure requires a champion in standard setting and developing regulatory frameworks. India and Canada, both founding members of the Global Partnership on AI with the OECD may influence the multilateral system.

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Gateway House (GH) – How can India and Canada work together with respect to forming a regulatory framework of AI where gains are shared equally and at the same time, it is ensured that the regulatory framework is citizen centric, transparent and accountable?

Bob Fay (BF) – It is a great question and a difficult one which needs to be addressed. Let me start talking about it in three ways. First, the current landscape for regulation system of AI is chaotic, it is dominated by vested interests of the firms at national and regional level. In fact, many of the firms that are active in this sphere like this system because it allows them to escape scrutiny, it is far away from citizen centric. Second, we need rules that are transparent and they aren’t transparent right now. Can anyone really read consent agreements and understand them? I recently read that it will take hundreds of hours to read the consent agreements for all the apps they use and really understand what it says. There is a lack of accountability and transparency. I don’t think most people understand how their data is being used or more importantly, how their data is being misused. So, my third point is we need better governance, not just national governance but global governance because firms which operate in this space are truly global in their operations and we need global coherence to match the operations of the social media platforms. So, what can we do? We can define rules, global rules on how data is being used, control over data and portability of data, the privacy and cyber rules around data and, we can do this by setting standards. Now India is the world’s largest democracy and has the world’s largest digital identity program and right now, it is making a concerted effort in data governance. So, India can actually lead the way. There are lot of countries looking for leadership, especially in the developing world and India can be the champion for these countries. Canada is part of G7 and is a democracy. Both India and Canada are two of the founding members on Global Partnership on AI, with OECD. Together, we can push the values that we want to see with the use of our data

GH – With global cyber space affectively dividing between American, European, Russian and Chinese camps. What can India and Canada do to advance e-commerce and digital economy?

BF – So to follow up on what I just said, there are three data rounds. There is China, a great firewall and uses other mechanisms to expose its national value, such as, belt and road. United states which is in some ways very similar to China and in some ways the exact opposite. It houses open data flows which is opposite to China but in practice, what this data flows mean is virtually all data outside of China go back to U.S. and it helps them create their own national champions. Now we have Europe in the middle which says we are going to compete by putting actual rules in the place and they put up GDPR as a mechanism to do that. The rest of us are sitting outside those rounds, like India and Canada. I actually think since there are more of us in size of population who are outside the rounds than inside together, we can actually come together and do something about this environment and reflect our values as to how data is to be used. With respect to, e-commerce, we shouldn’t think about it too narrowly. There are lots of technical issues around trade. Some of them are difficult ones, like custom duties. I don’t want to diminish this but it needs to broaden its scope and include things we are discussing like data, privacy and cyber. These things are intertwined and effect the competitive environment in which these firms operate. Rules around privacy and portability of data are going to affect the competitive nature of firms. We need to think about these two things when we think about trade. My final point is again this chaotic global environment and how we need a global governance structure. We not only need to balance these competing interests but also find a way to break down the barriers but bring all the other countries in the play. So, at CIGI, we propose a Digital Stability Board, it is a framework to allow this global cooperation to exist and looking ahead, India will be taking over G20 Presidency leadership and G20 is a great opportunity to champion all the people outside data rounds. There is a framework to be modelled over, the financial stability board which was also created by the G20 to deal with the mess after the financial crisis. This is something which India could champion.

GH – That sounds really interesting and with India upcoming presidency at G20, an opportunity to explore. Thank you for coming over the interview

Robert (Bob) Fay is the Managing Mirector, Digital Economy Research at Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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